Devised and written by: the Company (with dramaturgy by Lotte Wakeham)
Directors: Paul Slater and Kate Stanley
Reviewer: Joan Phillips
Idle Motion’s That is All You Need to Know has it all. A cracking new story, some great characters, good acting and spectacular multi-media staging.
That is All You Need to Know is the story of one of the best kept secrets of the Second World War. It tells both the story of the people who worked at Bletchley Park during the war, and that of the people who tried to make the story public years later.
Central is Gordon Welchman, one of the earliest, but lesser known, recruits to Bletchley at the beginning of the war. The play re-enacts some of the many moments in the history of breaking the Enigma code by the team at Bletchley, but crucially also Welchman’s later efforts to gain acknowledgement for the department after more than 30 years of official secrecy. Running in parallel, and intertwined with the war years, is the story of a group of interested locals who tried to save the Bletchley site and its history from neglect.
The recent attention given to Alan Turing’s crucial rôle and tragic story has pushed the contribution of others into the shadows. Most poignantly, this production points to the silent heroism of all who worked at Bletchley. Bound by the Official Secrets Act, none were allowed to mention their wartime rôles, even to close family. Even the existence of Bletchley was not publicly acknowledged until the 1970s. Yet 12,000 people worked there during the war (80% of whom were women) – despite their specialised contribution, their wartime contribution was officially recorded as “clerical”.
There is great acting from the whole cast, but what makes this production really stand out is the superb technical creativity. A seemingly simple stage set up with just two filing cabinets, school desks, chairs and a coat stand is turned into a living, working Enigma machine by projection and ingenious agility in rotating props or prop parts to act as surfaces for projection. Use of archive photographs and recorded voices projected around the set delivers the human history. Files open with actual moving images of their contents; the Enigma machine projected onto a filing cabinet decodes messages as they pass through the filing system. It is all directed with split second precision.
A little frustrating though are the frequent short, sharp changes in the action on stage; flipping, with the same cast playing different rôles in most cases, from the local history group in the 1990s, to the war, to Welchman’s efforts to get acknowledgment of Bletchley’s rôle during the 1980s, then back again. The flow can get a little disrupted and adding this to the constant manoeuvring of set by cast, things do get quite busy.
Churchill called these people the silent heroes of the war. It is staggering to us today that these honourable people did not break their code of silence, believing it to be a betrayal to do so. Agonisingly touching is the story of a young man aiming for the RAF, but redirected to Bletchley as a better use of his talents. His father died believing him to have been a coward, settling for a “clerical” job. Just one of the reasons why Welchman decided their story should be told.
A 1942 security warning emphasised the importance of discretion even within Bletchley itself, “Do not talk at meals. Do not talk in the transport. Do not talk travelling. Do not talk in the billet. Do not talk by your own fireside. Be careful even in your Hut.” If I told you any more I would have to kill you. So go and see the show instead.
Runs until Saturday 27th June 2015.